How To Grow Cucumbers
Cucumbers are a popular vegetable grown in home gardens. There are two basic types; pickling and slicing. They range from 1 inch long for gherkins to about 8 inches for slicers. All require the same growing conditions.
Cucumbers can be started indoors 2 weeks before planting outdoors but because they sprout quickly and grow fast that really isn't necessary unless the growing season is very short.
Cucumbers require full sun, a soil with a pH of 6 to 7 and good drainage.
Use a good natural fertilizer or compost and mix that into the soil a couple of weeks before planting time.
Plant 4 or 5 seeds about 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep in a hill and make the hills about 3 to 4 feet apart depending on variety of cucumber being planted. If planting in rows, plants seeds 2 1/2 feet apart and space the rows 6 1/ 2 feet apart.
Mulch plants to keep soil moist and reduce the need for watering. It also discourages weed growth and adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.
Water evenly as overwatering can produce cucumbers with hollow centers and a bitter flavor. Extremely hot weather can also produce bitter fruit.
While cucumbers can suffer from several pests, the cucumber beetle is the major pest. It attacks seedlings and spreads bacterial wilt. If not prevented, the infected plants will droop and die.
Before plants begin to flower they can be protected with row covers. But these have to be removed as soon as the plants start to flower for pollinating insects.
Other than an organic pesticide the best control is hand picking of the beetles. They are yellow-green with black stripes or spots, depending on the species. Squash bugs also attack cucumbers. They can be controlled by handpicking as well. Avoid chemical insecticides which will also kill bees which pollinate the blossoms.
The first flowers on a cucumber plant are male and won't produce fruit. After those first flowers fall off new ones will emerge and will be both male and female. Female flowers have a baby fruit at the base of the blossom.
When harvesting cucumbers use a knife or scissors to cut the cucumber off rather than pulling it off. This prevents damage to the plant so it can produce even more cucumbers until frost.
Cucumber plants are prone to various fungal diseases and wilts. The best way to prevent these diseases is by watering the plants at the soil rather than getting their leaves wet. Water the plants in the morning so if the leaves do get wet they can dry before night. Good drainage is important to prevent the root diseases. Flowering and fruit producing plants require one inch of water a week.
When cucumbers start producing, they grow rapidly. Pick daily or at the very least, every other day. The more you pick, the more the plant will produce. When the cucumbers are allowed to grow too large or start to turn yellow, the plant is putting more energy into seed production than in producing fruit.
If short on space cucumbers can be grown up on a trellis. Bush types can be grown in containers.
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Author: Marilyn Pokorney
Freelance writer of science, nature, animals and the environment.
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